Izzy Kidden asks, ‘How do you locate sand hazards?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

All golfers want lower scores. To most, this means "buying a better game." This could also mean playing strategically, which has obvious cost advantages over high-tech equipment, and often, better success!

Strategy requires at least two tee-shot choices – to force decisions on an advantageous approach position and the best shot pattern to get there. To a degree, it also means hazard avoidance, although I wonder how much we locate hazards to create different advantages and consequences – given modern bunker maintenance (read: perfect) and design (read: shallower). Usually the advantage is one or more of:

• Shorter approach – always an advantage;

• Better angle – usually a frontal opening without hazards in between;

• Green contours assisting the approach – an upslope facing one side of the fairway to help stop their shot;

• Preferred stance and lie – usually a level or uphill lie to make the shot easier;

• Better vision to green – not as important given yardage books, but still providing psychological comfort;

• Taking major hazards out of play on either shot; and

• Golfers' equivalent of investing in CDs, not stocks, to avoid potential disaster!

On tee shots, hazards should provide a variety of basic challenges. Assuming a slight dogleg, we can place fairway hazards on either the inside or the outside of the hole and they can be:

• Carry hazards, just short of the "normal" landing area;

• Flanking hazards at the normal landing area;

• Pinching hazards, just beyond the normal landing area;

• Center hazards, requiring a shot to either side (but requiring more than one fairway width); or

• Staggered hazards, where each may affect different golfers differently.

Or, you could have no hazards, relying on the green site to provide the hole's challenge. How do we decide what is appropriate on any one hole? I always locate hazards where natural features allow, normally by using an existing creek, pond or trees, or building fairway bunkers in a gentle upslope. Beyond that:

Hazards should be "in play" for good players, since short hitters effectively are penalized because they can't reach the green.*

Hazards should create temptation and bold play by allowing recovery. Hazards that encroach upon the fairway edge are stronger than those paralleling it, requiring combinations of distance, carry and shot pattern to avoid them. Hazards on the inside of the fairway are usually stronger than those on the outside – since the shortest route is usually the most tempting.

Green hazards should create hazard relationships that pose a dilemma for golfers. I label these patterns as "inside-inside," "inside-outside," "outside-inside," "both sides-inside" and "none-all sides," etc., for par-4 holes. We can create infinite strategic shot relationships with just these few basic concepts. We have found a few combinations to be more popular and useful.

Carry bunkers work well on normally downwind holes, where they are more tempting carries. If combined with an outside green bunker, they are strategic, as tailwind reduces approach-shot backspin, making the opening from the carry more attractive and necessary.

In an "inside wind," inside flanking bunkers allow golfers to shape shots toward or around them using the wind. Outside pinching bunkers (target bunkers) are great with an "outside-to-inside" wind. Combined with an inside green bunker, they allow the same ball flight pattern (say a fade on a dogleg right mirroring the breeze) and create a choice between a longer, open front shot and shorter one confronting the hazard.

An inside fairway/inside green combination on long par 4s makes them play even longer, emphasizing their length. Outside fairway bunkers/outside green combinations work well on opening holes because the bunkers present well from the clubhouse, and guarding "long cut" makes for easier play. Otherwise, outside fairway bunkers require a strong inside green hazard, since they guard the counter-instinctive "long cut."

When we go to the expense of building a bunker, we like it to serve many functions. We place them in full view for maximum beauty, or to act as directional, definition, shot safety (keeping a reasonable shot from going into further trouble beyond, like trees or water), or golfer safety devices, by protecting adjacent golf areas.

* Although, as one elderly player told me, "I pay the same as the young guys and I deserve to hit it into bunkers, too!" I had never thought of it quite that way before.